We have long thought of Program Management as a magnified version of project management, that is, project management only more so. Or, going in the opposite direction, the converse of viewing the work packages of the first level down of a work breakdown structure of a large project as contributing projects in their own right. Indeed, this view is reinforced by the definitions provided by the Project Management Institute ("PMI").
A Guide to the Project Management Body Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) - Fourth Edition defines Program Management as follows:
"The centralized coordinated management of a program to achieve the program's strategic objectives and benefits."
Where a Program is defined as:
"A group of related projects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits and control not available from managing them individually. Programs may include elements of related work outside of the scope of the discrete projects in the program."
These definitions place the program manager in a position to stop project managers from squabbling over shared resources. Other than that, we are not sure that these definitions are particularly helpful.
Nevertheless, this overall idea is best illustrated by the graphic shown in Figure 1:
Figure 1: The "Fractal" nature of project management
For the uninitiated, a "fractal" may be defined as a series of self-similar shapes of varying size. Every shape in the series is geometrically similar. Many examples exist in the natural world, for example see Figure 2.
Figure 2: Sea shell illustrating fractal geometry in nature
Notwithstanding, others have long since believed that program management is different, as illustrated by the following definition that encompasses a much broader spectrum:
"The effective management of a program that may cover any or all of the following:
- Portfolio of projects related to some common objective
- An organization's business strategy which is to be implemented through projects
- The interdependencies between a number of projects
- Resource allocation amongst a portfolio of projects."
We found that definition in 1999 and, since then, we have been looking for real-life examples of that broader purview.
Now, Dr. James T. Brown has come along with his book The Handbook of Program Management in which he demonstrates that program management can be very different. James is the President and CEO of SEBA® Solutions, Inc. He has sixteen years of experience with NASA, including hands-on experience as a project manager and an executive-level leader. He has received numerous awards for his project management contributions, including the NASA Public Service Medal and Engineer of the Year from the Cape Canaveral Technical Society.
From this experience, James is in a position to outline the differences between the roles of program managers and that of project managers. In fact he states right up front:
"The role of the program manager is very different from the role of project manager. The role of program manager is very complex; it can vary from managing multiple projects to managing multiple projects with operational responsibilities, in addition to being accountable for profit or cost targets linked to business strategy. Conversely, the project manager's role is to deliver the project within the cost and schedule constraints that are usually established at the program level."
Note particularly the program manager's responsibility for setting a project's cost and schedule constraints.
In his book James focuses on process and provides proven practices for establishing a successful program management culture, one that is supported enthusiastically by project stakeholders and project personnel alike. He shows how to develop the attributes of an effective program manager. This ranges from having a vision and strategy for long-term improvement, to assessing people and building relationships to analyzing a myriad of means for accomplishing a program's objectives.
This book does demonstrate that program management can be different - and not just a scaled-up version of project management. So, if you aspire to move up to be a program manager, this may be just the book for you.
1. A Guide to the Project Management Body Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) - Fourth Edition, Project Management Institute, PA, 2008, p434
3. Wideman, R. M., A Management Framework for Project, Program and Portfolio Integration, Trafford Publishing, 2004, Figure 5-3, p52
5. Patel, M.B., & P.W.G. Morris. Centre for Research in the Management of Projects (CRMP), University of Manchester, UK, 1999
6. Brown, J.T., The Handbook of Program Management, McGraw Hill, NY, 2008, pp5-6